Artwork That Stops Traffic

August 22, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

CUMBERLAND -- From a distance, the Indian warrior and woman -- standing on a hill above Rocky Gap State Park -- appear so lifelike that motorists regularly stop along the highway for a closer look.

"With just a little imagination they could come to life," says Harold Riley, who carved the 7-foot-6-inch warrior and a smaller woman from a felled tulip poplar tree earlier this summer.

Maybe that's why Mr. Riley has found an endless parade of travelers parked below his hillside home on Route 144. It is just off Interstate 68, where the highway passes Rocky Gap State Park, east of Cumberland.

"I never thought they'd attract so much attention," says Mr. Riley, a retired Maryland Department of Natural Resources park ranger. "A lot of people slow down and stop and take pictures. Some just go by and honk their horns."

Mr. Riley, 56, a former park manager at Rocky Gap, carved each of the Indians in just two days, using a chain saw, ax and chisels.

The warrior -- one hand holding a bow and the other stretched forward, clasping a spear -- and the woman are clearly visible from the eastbound lanes of I-68.

"People make a special trip just to come out and see what [Mr. Riley] has new," says Mike Deckelbaum, assistant park manager at Rocky Gap. "It's almost gotten to be a tourist destination. People stop in here to ask where the Indians are."

Mr. Riley imagines that his Indians have just walked out of the woods behind his two-plus-acre lot and have caught sight of Lake Habeeb, a 243-acre man-made lake, at the base of Evitts Mountain.

"I put them out on the hill as a tribute to Rocky Gap," says Mr. Riley, who also managed Calvert Cliffs, Gunpowder and other Maryland parks during his 21-year career with the state.

Mr. Riley has been a woodcarver for years. His contemporary frame home is adorned with coffee tables, lamps and other furnishings he has fashioned. Walls are covered with his paintings.

And he's well known in hunting circles for his handcrafted, ornate turkey calls -- wooden boxes containing bits of aluminum, glass or slate that hunters strike with a stick to mimic turkeys.

Mr. Riley typically sells turkey calls for $150 to $225.

His other work began four summers ago when he couldn't remove an oak stump from his yard. So he decided to carve a gnome-like head out of the stump and make it the center piece of a rock garden.

Since erecting the Indians around July 4, Mr. Riley has carved a bald eagle and a totem pole.

The eagle is perched on a barren chestnut tree in his front yard.

"It seems like he has something new up there every couple of weeks," Mr. Deckelbaum says.

The eagle has fooled humans and ruffled a few feathers.

"The eagle stopped local traffic," Mr. Riley says. "People couldn't tell if I carved something new or if the bird was real."

He notes robins stayed away from the lawn around the eagle's perch for a week or so.

Mr. Riley's figures have become a hit with the locals.

"We travel that road all the time, and I enjoy seeing them every time we go by," says Lawnie Kyle, who lives in nearby Flintstone.

Are travelers likely to see more carvings soon?

"Maybe a buffalo," Mr. Riley says. "Maybe two or three of them. But that's a pretty big undertaking and I really don't want things to get too tacky. It could get pretty crowded out there."

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